Nik Stanbridge

The period between Christmas and New Year is difficult to navigate.  No one seems sure of whether they’re coming or going. Figuring out what day of the week it is seems harder than ever. One unique problem for us journalists is finding a decent story to report on. When most people are on holiday, incoming news is slow.

Thankfully, The Sun has got ahead of the game and secured itself an appropriately shocking front-page story today. How? Well, rather than reporting on hard news, which (notwithstanding the disastrous floods) is scarce, they’ve made up their own news by commissioning a survey that reveals some people do drugs in public toilets.

Yes, The Sun investigation found toilets in 11 out of 25 UK churches tested positive for cocaine.

It’s tempting to jump to conclusions and assume clergy and priests are snorting the white stuff in-between services. This idea may make a good soap opera storyline, but its not grounded in reality.

Because one in three people have taken an illegal drug in their lifetime, we should actually expect to find evidence of drug use in many public toilets. This is a sad indictment on our society where drug use and abuse is more common than many have assumed. Seeing as Canterbury Cathedral welcomes one million visitors a year it’s statistically likely that drug use will take place in its public toilets.

On top of this, UK churches (at their best) welcome and help society’s most vulnerable. Many inner city churches and cathedrals have ministries to the homeless for example. Churches up and down the country host AA and NA meetings. And so, again, we should expect to find evidence of drug taking in some church toilets.

This is not to say that Christians encourage or condone drug taking. Far from it. Using cocaine is both sinful and illegal. But when our buildings are only full of squeaky-clean people who have got it all together, we’ve ceased to be Church. Drug addicts are exactly the kinds of people who should feel like the Church is there to help them get free and get clean. As Abigail Van Buren famously said, ‘The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.’

Today’s front page of The Sun shouldn’t be understood as an attack on the Church. On the contrary it should encourage us that people who need to hear and believe the gospel are still walking into our buildings. As we enter 2016 our prayer must not be ‘God please clean up our toilets’ but ‘God please clean up people’s hearts and give us all the fresh start we need’.

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